Off season has arrived! With races ticked off and training plans completed, now is a great time to take a step back and take stock of everything you’ve achieved this year. Even if your race season didn’t go quite according to plan, there will still be successes to celebrate. And even better – lessons to learn so you can hit those start lines stronger next year.

For some, the off season is just that. Time off from training to do all the stuff that gets put on hold when you’re in the throes of race season. For others, it’s the time to knuckle down and put the work in on things that might get a bit neglected when you’re racing. The real nitty gritty gym work, the mind-numbing but necessary drills in the pool. The horrible turbo sessions that you know will make you stronger for next season but… ugh, can we just not?

It might seem like it’s all or nothing. Have fun and kick back, or work hard but just in a different way. But what if you could do both? What if you could spend the off-season having fun and going on adventures – in a way that will still hugely benefit you for next year’s races?  Let’s do this…

How to have fun and get strong over the winter months

Step 1: Take a break

After a summer packed full of racing, the prospect of taking a break from training will either be a welcome relief… or it might feel a bit daunting. We’re all different! And for many of us, training is a big part of our daily routine, a way to relieve stress or to escape – even if just for an hour or two – from the every day grind. Taking a break might feel uncomfortable, but just remember that reducing your training load and taking a bit of rest is definitely important long term. It gives your body and mind a chance to recover. It gives you a bit of headspace to really think about what you want to achieve going forward and what you need to do to get there. And – most importantly – it gives your friends and family a chance to remember what you’re like when you’re not tired, grumpy and always scavenging for peanut butter.

Step away from the Training Peaks numbers. Resist the temptation to dig out the old training plan and give yourself a little bit of time to go unstructured. Get active as and when you fancy it. Do it for fun. Meet up with friends for easy café rides. Heck, meet up with friends for some form of non-sporty socialisation. Go wild! You’ll come back feeling fresh and ready to go.

Step 2: Make time for adventures. Try new things or rediscover old hobbies – they might just double up as great cross training

Getting stronger on the bike doesn’t have to involve sitting on the turbo, creating a gnarly sweat puddle on the garage floor and making weird noises that have your next-door neighbours wondering what exactly you’re doing in there. Why not give some off-road adventuring a chance and go and explore the trails? You’ll be too busy dodging tree roots and rogue squirrels to worry about average pace, and you’ll pick up some awesome bike handling skills in the process.

Likewise, strength and conditioning doesn’t have to happen solely in the gym. You could take the kids to a climbing wall and get your butt kicked while also developing your upper body strength. Or give stand-up paddle boarding a try. It’ll be a great core workout and it gives you a really good excuse to go and get a hot chocolate to warm up when you’ve performed comedy fall number 276 of the day.

There are plenty of ways that you can stay active and have fun, while still getting some ‘background benefits’ for your triathlon training. Cross-country skiing, cyclocross, hiking, goat yoga (yep, that’s a thing – we checked). Anything goes. Find what’s fun and run with it.

And, if you really can’t stay away from the allure of that ‘enter now’ button, why not try entering events in disciplines you don’t usually race? It’s a great way to have some fun, gain experience and push yourself in new, exciting ways. The novelty and the freedom of being a newbie again and trying something totally different can be just the ticket to finding a bit of joy and getting that oh so elusive “mojo” back after a busy race season.

Step 3: Plan to succeed

One of the reasons that off-season can feel a bit scary is that you go from this hyper-structured daily grind of train, work, eat, sleep, repeat to suddenly being “done” and not having a training plan to tell you what you need to get up and do at 5.30am tomorrow morning. Some people love the freedom. Others hate the lack of structure and get ‘the fear’ that if they take their foot off the gas, they’ll struggle to get going again.

Whether you’re taking proper time off, or keeping your training ticking over. One way you can A) ensure you’re in a good place to improve and achieve your goals next season, and B) feel like you’ve still got a bit of productivity and control, is to use that extra time to start planning for next year, now. Doing the same thing year on year, without addressing where you can improve and what you need to work on will get you small gains through consistency alone – sure. But if you really want to take a leap forward, now is a good time to take a step back and have an honest conversation with yourself about what you need to do differently.

Taking this time to do some planning will give you a clear focus, so that when it’s time to get going again you know exactly where to start. Plus, if you decide you want to work on things like swim technique or experiment with nutrition – the off-season is ideal because you’ve got the time and capacity to consult the experts and put the changes into practice without compromising key, race-specific training sessions.

 Ready to off season like a pro? Check out some of our other training tips:

Five reasons to give off road a go

How to run strong off the bike

How to make the most of indoor riding

Winter pool sessions to level up your swim speed

Five tips for improving your swim this winter

10 ways to improve your performance